Laura Berquist is a home-schooling mother of six, and director of the Mother of Divine Grace independent study program in Ojai, Calif. A graduate of St. Thomas Aquinas College, Berquist is the author of Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum and Harp and Laurel Wreath. She recently spoke with Register features correspondent Tim Drake.
Drake: What led you to begin home schooling?
Very early on I had thought about home schooling. My mother [author Donna Steichen] had a friend who home schooled and she gave me the idea. At that time we had young children and as far as I could tell they were going to keep coming, so my first reaction was, “I just can't do that!”
When it came time for schooling, however, I didn't like the alternatives that were available, so my husband and I, along with several other families, started a school. I don't know why I thought that would be easier than home schooling, but I did.
When our first child was in third grade, our second child started school and she just wasn't happy. It was then that I decided to take my mother's advice and made the decision to teach my children at home.
It was amazing to me how much better life became at home.
My husband and I were both readers, but our children hadn't been reading. It wasn't until I began teaching them at home that I realized what was wrong. Their life was too full. They would get up late in the morning, rush around looking for lost homework, shoes and lunch and then get to school late. After school we would do homework, say the rosary, have dinner, read a story, and go to bed.
Then we would repeat the same thing the next day.
There wasn't any time for reflection. Once they were at home again, there was time for daily Mass, for reading and for playing.
The Register recently reported that home schooling is gaining in popularity. Why do you think that is?
Absolutely. I have only to look at the increase in enrollment at Mother of Divine Grace to see that this is true. We started with 35 families in 1995. That number has nearly doubled each year. Today, we have 1,400 students from 515 families.
There are a number of factors for why it is becoming popular. One is the clear collapse of culture. To have school shootings, even in Catholic schools, is frightening. However, it's not surprising, given that acceptance of abortion diminishes everyone's respect for life. Most people, though, start home schooling because they know someone who is doing it and they decide “this is how I want my children to be.”
It gains in numbers because there are more witnesses.
I also think that in the U.S. we have a strong independent spirit that I have not seen elsewhere. We say, “these are my children and I'm going to raise them the way that I want.” We see it as our duty, our responsibility and our right.
Additionally, home schooling is gaining in popularity because it is a way to pass on the faith. Our Lord is the Word and it is through words that our faith is passed on. If you want to pass on the faith, you need to say it. At home with your children, you are free to talk about it all the time. There are a great number of people who feel that their own religious formation was not as good as it could have been. This is the chronicle of my generation. We weren't taught our faith and it's something we want our children to have.
You also work as a home-school consultant. What do you see as the number one challenge that home-schooling parents face?
There is no question. The thing that makes the difference in whether a home school succeeds or not is the relationship that the parents have with their children.
Parents need to see the good in what their children do and praise them.
There is no room for an adversarial relationship. We need to pay attention to our children, and tell them that we enjoy being with them and that we love them.
At the end of each day we might run through a kind of examination of conscience, asking ourselves, “How was I with each of my children, individually? Did I affirm the good things that they did? Was I meeting their needs?” If the answer is “no,” then we need to make the resolution to get up in the morning and do these things. Getting to a child's heart will turn an adversarial relationship into a positive one.
How do you see home-schooled children contributing to the Church of the future?
I think that home-schooled children will be a light. My mother always asks, “If you want a boat that will weather a storm where will you build it? Out in the open in the middle of a raging sea or in a harbor where you can take time making it seaworthy?” Our homes are a harbor. Most people are converted by both example and doctrine, but example comes first.
Home-schooled children will lead the kind of lives that are an example to others. I think they are the future of the Catholic Church. They are where we will get our vocations.
Home-schooled children, as a block, are going to be able to witness to their faith. That is where the hope of the Church lies. They will make a difference.